There seems to be an ever widening chasm between hunters, trappers and fishermen to some degree, and the non-sportsman populace of the American public. Is this deepening rift caused by simple ignorance of wildlife management, hyper sensitivity or is it something more sinister?
I remember the early days of anti-hunting and trapping sentiment belonging to a few small groups that most regular Americans thought of as fringe activists at best. The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) comes to mind as the most well-known early on. When PETA started throwing buckets of red paint on unsuspecting people for wearing fur, they set a new standard in civility – a new low standard. PETA also became a household name.
Brigades of rabid, self-described animal rights activists soon formed over the course of the following years. Today, in the social media age, hysteria reigns in place of thoughtful debate. Emotion and “likes” are valued over reason and logic. The internet is littered with various groups and pages disseminating falsehoods and in some cases outright lies, in a mission to obfuscate the truth about wildlife management and hunting to endear support for the demise of it all.
So how did we get here? Once, hunting was considered an honored tradition by America as a whole. Even Norman Rockwell, a giant in Americana imagery, captured themes that brought the traditions and values of hunting to life for those that had not experienced it. Hunting and trapping were staples of American lifestyle. While people living in urban enclaves didn’t participate to the same degree as their rural countrymen, what did not exist was a divisive mentality that is so prevalent today. Hunters hunted and non-hunters didn’t. This was a very basic American principle in action: to each their own.
With the rise of anti-hunting sentiment among the minority, the majority acted to find compromise. We listened to concerns about the display of dead deer tied to the hood of a truck. We cautioned to not retell the story of our hunt when some coworkers who might be offended may overhear it. We tried to be aware of non-hunter sensitivities and started changing the way we talked about hunting and specifically, the killing of animals.
I believe that may have been a big mistake.
While I do agree that being sensitive around non-hunters is good practice, I think we have swung the pendulum so far in the opposite direction that even the mention of the word ‘hunting’ is now considered offensive to some. In our quest to rebrand our hunting vocabulary, we have given the anti-hunting crowd more ammunition to sway mainstream opinion against us. Of course, some of the terminology we use has always been questionable in my estimation.
Why are we ‘sportsmen’? This term to describe hunters, trappers and fisherman may be one of the biggest handicaps we have bestowed on ourselves. Is it because the term makes the killing of a deer or hooking of a fish sound less threatening? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that anti-hunting activists love to turn this label around on us.
Activists use the phrase ‘killing for sport’ as much as some hunters use the term ‘harvest.’ We’ll get to that one next. How do we justify the claim that we hunt to provide food for our families and tradition, not for bloodlust, when we self-describe what we do as ‘sport’? Isn’t there a better alternative?
When was the last time you planted a deer seed in May, to then harvest a grown deer in November? I never have. So why do we continue to use the term ‘harvest’ in place of what we actually do? We kill and the very least we can do to respect the animal whose life we have taken is to own responsibility of what that means. Killing an animal is serious business and we should treat it that way. Likening it to picking tomatoes is wrong. We started ‘harvesting’ animals in an attempt to be sensitive about the word ‘killing’. It did not work.
Anti-hunting activists sneer when they hear it and trust me on this – they aren’t too sensitive about telling you how they feel about it. Furthermore, using the term ‘harvest’ can be made to sound like we are flippant about the taking of an animal. Activists looking to gain support from the public for their agendas certainly paint us that way.
‘Resource management’ is a term that has gained popularity most notably in state wildlife and fishery agencies. Opponents of hunting, fishing and trapping scoff at animals being labeled as resources and further reject the need for any kind of management. Their philosophy is to simply let nature take its course without human interference, regardless of serious issues like Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, predator to prey imbalances and human/wildlife conflicts. I do respect the need for managing wildlife, but ‘resource management’ sounds too corporate for my tastes. What is worse is what the anti-hunting activists hear in that term -“The business plan for killing innocent animals.” There must be a better way to convey this conservation mission.
By far, the term most damaging to us as hunters and fisherman is ‘trophy’. What does a trophy signify? It signifies the bearer has won some form of competitive game and is recognized as the victor. I don’t want my hunt to be categorized that way – as an insignificant game or competition.
Folks that aren’t involved in hunting mostly do not have a problem with those who identify their hunting with providing food for the family table. On the other hand, the non-hunting general public holds different views about the term ‘trophy hunting’.
That is not to say wanting to mount an eight pound trout or 14 point whitetail buck is wrong. I have quite a few mounts from memorable hunts – I just don’t refer to them as trophies. I see mounts as a token of respect for the animal. Every time I look at a mount I relive the challenge of that hunt; I am awed by the majesty of that animal and am grateful for their sacrifice. I do not believe I am better than that animal, maybe only better that day.
We are at a critical time in our hunting heritage. Our numbers are shrinking and the onslaught of referendum legislation attempting to deny our natural right to hunt, fish and trap shows no sign of slowing down. This is a nationwide effort we are up against. Our biggest challenge as hunters, trappers and fishermen is being able to effectively communicate our positions to the general public and deny our opposition the ability to use our own words against us. We need to stand tall, be proud of whom we are and not let our foes cast us in the light of their choosing. We must be proactive and nevermore reactive.
Do we harvest trophies as a sport to manage resources or do we hunt, trap and fish to take animals for food, teach our children important values and provide resources for our families? The future of our hunting, trapping and fishing heritage may depend on this very answer.